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Sunday 7: Why first few minutes of game vs. Dolphins will be telling for Patriots

Ryan Hannable
December 09, 2018 - 7:24 am

1. The Patriots picked up one of their better wins of the season last Sunday when they beat the Vikings, 24-10 at home. It was clear from the start the Patriots were going to play the game on their terms. Case in point: Elandon Roberts’ big hit on a swing pass to Dalvin Cook that fell incomplete on the very first snap of the game. “It meant a lot. It’s a tone-setter,” Patriots safety Duron Harmon said this week. “He just let everybody know this is a game we’re going to play fast and physical and that is how we’re going to be looking to start all the games. To win games you have to be physical in this league. He did a good job of setting the tone for us.” That hit led to a three-and-out and the entire sideline, Bill Belichick included, getting fired up. The Patriots need that kind of start Sunday, as they have had lots of troubles starting on the road this season. In five of their six road games, they have allowed the opponent to score first and in the three losses, go up double-digits in the opening quarter. According to Harmon, it comes down to focus. “I feel like we always do a good job of being focused and knowing what we have to do and just sometimes we just don’t do it for whatever reason,” he said. “But, we’re going to make sure to try and fix that this week and play the best road game that we’ve played all year.” If the Patriots come out slow and lethargic it could be a telling sign that another road loss could be coming, but if there’s a lot of emotion on both sides of the ball, it could be a long day for Miami.

2. While the Chiefs are still the No. 1 seed in the AFC, are they the Patriots’ biggest competition in the AFC? From our viewpoint, if the game is on the road then yes, but at home that is a different story. We don’t see the Patriots having any trouble with a Kansas City team at Gillette Stadium, especially with a rookie quarterback in Patrick Mahomes and a coach in Andy Reid, who always seems to have trouble when the pressure rises. So, what team should the Patriots not want to have come to Gillette Stadium? The Texans. Houston is finally healthy and that is bad news for its opponents. It has all the elements to beat the Patriots, especially with a healthy Deshaun Watson. The only question mark is coaching, as Bill O’Brien has struggled each time he’s gone up against Bill Belichick and the Patriots.

3. The Patriots have tried several different things to prepare for the South Florida elements over the years, including traveling down a day early, practicing in the bubble and jacking up the heat, among other things. This week? Business as usual. Despite temperatures in the 30s, the team still practiced outside on the lower grass field behind Gillette Stadium every day. Even if they wanted to go inside the Empower Field House, they couldn’t because it’s being resurfaced, according to ESPN’s Mike Reiss. Belichick did sign off on it, so going indoors wasn’t in his plans any way.

4. One thing worth thinking about is the future of Trent Brown with the Patriots. There’s no question he’s been outstanding this season, but he is a free agent after the year and will likely be in line for a ton of money on the open market — look at Nate Solder getting a four-year deal worth $62 million last offseason. The Patriots do have rookie Isaiah Wynn currently on injured reserve and he potentially could be the left tackle of the future. Having Wynn in their back pocket makes it more likely the team will not break the bank for Brown and this could be a case of a win-win for both sides — Brown having a solid year to earn himself a big pay day, while the Patriots get a great year at left tackle paving the way to potentially a deep playoff run. On a lesser scale, it's similar to Darrelle Revis in 2014.

5. NFL Pro Bowl voting is wrapping up for fans with the deadline being this Thursday and then players and coaches will cast their votes this coming Friday. Among fan voting right now, no Patriots players lead their respective positions. While it may seem that isn’t fair, there really isn’t a Patriot who is absolutely deserving of leading their respective positions. They will certainly get a few Pro Bowlers, but it’s not like past years where the team has been very well-represented. The final rosters will be revealed Dec. 18 live on NFL Network.

6. The Lions and Cardinals will meet this week in Arizona, which led to a nice piece by ESPN’s Josh Weinfuss detailing the relationship between Matt Patricia and Chandler Jones. "He's everything that you want as a coach to coach," Patricia said. "When you have guys like that, then you start dreaming up crazy things for them to do and he's one of those guys that likes to try different things. So, it was great." Patricia also added: "I love Chandler. He's like my son. I'd do anything for him. He's part of my family." This makes it worth wondering if Patricia was fullly on board with the Patriots trading him during the 2016 offseason.

7. Should be a fun upcoming week with the Steelers game on tap, but with Pittsburgh’s loss to the Chargers last Sunday night, the game is not as important as it could have been. The Steelers are pretty much out of the running for a first-round bye and now have their eyes set on the AFC North and getting a home game on wild card weekend. Still, these games have delivered some classics over the years and the Steelers are still capable of giving the Patriots trouble.

Related: Patriots tight end Dwayne Allen won't play vs. Dolphins